by Diane Bukowski
Detroit – The deliberate lead poisoning of the people of Flint, especially its children, babies and those still in their mothers’ wombs, likely ranks among the greatest genocidal crimes in the U.S. in the 21st century, an act of domestic terrorism comparable only to the thousands of murders of unarmed Blacks, Latinos and poor people by law enforcement since 2000.
No matter what promises Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder made in his Jan. 19 State of the State address, no matter how many planeloads and truckloads of bottled water are brought into the city now, no matter how much is spent to restructure water systems, no matter how many speeches are given, rallies held and class action lawsuits filed, the damage done is “irreversible,” according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
“Lead has … serious consequences for the health of children,” WHO says. “At high levels of exposure, lead attacks the brain and central nervous system to cause coma, convulsions and even death. Children who survive severe lead poisoning may be left with mental retardation and behavioral disruption. …
“In particular lead affects children’s brain development resulting in reduced intelligence quotient (IQ), behavioral changes such as shortening of attention span and increased antisocial behavior, and reduced educational attainment. Lead exposure also causes anemia, hypertension, renal impairment, immunotoxicity and toxicity to the reproductive organs. The neurological and behavioral effects of lead are believed to be irreversible.” Adults are affected as well.
Every child and adult in Flint who drank Flint’s water since April 2014 has been exposed to lead, according to studies done so far. That includes 8,657 children under the age of 6, who are most severely affected. Ten adults have died so far from Legionnaire’s Disease, also a result of the lead contamination.
EPA guidelines for lead contamination of water indicate that action needs to be taken at 5-15 parts per billion (ppb) of lead, but that NO level is “safe.”
But in Virginia Tech’s study of 257 Flint households, according to the Washington Post, “The lowest reading they obtained was around 200 ppb, already ridiculously high. But more than half of the readings came in at more than 1,000 ppb. Some came in above 5,000 — the level at which EPA considers the water to be ‘toxic waste.’ The highest reading registered at an astounding 13,000 ppb.”
Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the director of pediatric residency at Hurley Children’s Hospital who first exposed the severity of the crisis, told the AP, “It has such damning, lifelong and generational consequences.”
What punishment is sufficient for those who are responsible? What must be done to forever change the nature of the system that preordained this would happen?
“I know apologies won’t make up for mistakes that were made,” Snyder said at his State of the State address yesterday. “I take full responsibility to fix the problem so it will never happen again. We will be doing whatever we must until the crisis is resolved.”
He even hypocritically had Dr. Hanna-Attisha stand for a round of applause, mispronouncing her last name and saying he calls her “Dr. Mona.”
While admitting some responsibility, Snyder laid most of the blame on officials from the Michigan Departments of Environmental Quality and Health and Human Services, whose leaders answered directly to him. He announced he had fired several top MDEQ executives.
He repeated the lie that the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) terminated its service to Flint. He also blamed the mayor and City Council of Flint, who voted in 2013 to connect with the private Karegnondi Pipeline, although they did not vote to disconnect from DWSD immediately or use Flint River water.
The Karegnondi Pipeline itself represents more dangers. The mainstream media has held it up as the ultimate answer to Flint’s problems, providing “clean” water from Lake Huron. However, they fail to mention that is ALL Karegnondi will do. The individual communities serviced by it must build their OWN treatment facilities.
An initial assessment from the U.S. Environmental Task Force’s newly created Flint Drinking Water Task Force warns: “There are many other communities scheduled to transition from their current water sources to the KWA pipeline. Although the source water will be the same for the City of Flint and all communities transitioning to the KWA pipeline source, the intended treatment planned for these communities may differ and the studies undertaken for the City of Flint may or may not be suitable for use by the other communities.”
Snyder also blamed the EPA. The EPA said in a statement, “Our first priority is to make sure the water in Flint is safe, but we also must look at what the agency could have done differently,” with a spokeswoman confirming the agency did not act fast enough to address the problem
The EPA statement also said that “while EPA worked within the framework of the law to repeatedly and urgently communicate the steps the state needed to take to properly treat its water, those necessary (EPA) actions were not taken as quickly as they should have been.”
It cited “failures and resistance at the state and local levels to work with us in a forthright, transparent and proactive manner.”
But it was Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder who directly ordered Flint’s then-Emergency Manager Darnell Earley to disconnect Flint’s water system from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department and use the Flint River water and city facilities, with no lead protections in place, in April 2014. That set the poisoning of Flint in motion, according to an article published by Curt Guyette in the Michigan Democracy Watch Blog.
In a recent interview with the ACLU of Michigan, Flint Public Works Director Howard Croft … pointed the finger of blame at the state, saying the decision to switch came from the governor’s office,” Guyette wrote.
Earley, at Snyder’s behest, is now wreaking havoc in the Detroit Public Schools. As of today, 88 Detroit schools have been ordered shut down due to walkouts by teachers over conditions in the schools and Snyder’s role in dismantling DPS.
U.S. Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton took cynical advantage of the situation during the presidential debates, opining that the lead poisoning would not have happened in affluent white cities. However, she did not say that if elected, she would have the U.S. Department of Justice criminally indict Snyder or any other operatives in the disaster.
Clinton likewise neglected to address the millions of deaths and destruction of world-class water system and other infrastructures resulting from the genocidal global wars she and President Obama continue to conduct against Libya, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and throughout Africa and Latin America.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson of Rainbow PUSH spoke last week in Flint about the lead crisis and then stuck around for celebrations of the national Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. birthday holiday Jan. 18. He was also present outside the governor’s address.
“We should have … tape around the city because Flint is a crime scene.” he said. “The people of Flint have been betrayed.”
But only two days after the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, Jackson did not propose using the strategy that resulted in one of Dr. King’s major successes – the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which brought the city to its knees economically and led eventually to passage of national civil rights legislation.
We, the Voice of Detroit, propose once again a national boycott of Michigan’s major businesses!
Why? As Dr. King proved, the only way to affect the slaughter of poor and working people by corporate interests is to hit the banksters in the pocket.
During a Michigan Welfare Rights march against the cut-offs of 12,600 Michigan families from public benefits on Sept. 29, 2011, VOD asked Jackson and U.S Rep. John Conyers if they would call for a boycott of Michigan businesses in response to what the protesters said amounted to “murder.”
Both Jackson and Conyers reacted with a horrified, resounding “No.” They said an “economic recovery” was underway in Michigan, despite evidence to the contrary all around them in the neighborhoods of Detroit.
Jackson went on to attend Rainbow PUSH’s Global Automotive and Energy Summit at MGM Grand Casino the following week, hobnobbing with corporate executives who sit on Rainbow PUSH’s board. If you love to visit casinos go to bola tangkas online to get the best bonus deals.
In fact, it was Hillary Clinton’s husband Bill Clinton who signed the legislation which permanently cut off federal benefits to the poor after four years, if each state opted in. Just before she left office, Michigan’s Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm gave state approval, although she had vowed not to do so, leaving it to Snyder to drop the ax.
Today, Michigan’s majority-Black cities are suffering far worse than even in 2011.
In Detroit, with at least an 83 percent Black population, 59 percent of the city’s children live in poverty, with rates of unemployment, home mortgage and tax foreclosures and evictions, and public school shutdowns skyrocketing.
Under the Bankruptcy Confirmation Plan of 2014, Detroit has effectively lost the revenue of all its major assets, including the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, Belle Isle and the Detroit Institute of Arts, where billions of dollars worth of art owned by the city was lost to a “trust.” The Flint debacle results directly from the state-sponsored dismantling of the country’s third largest public water and sewerage facility.
VOD recently reported that there are hardly any workers left at the city’s Waste Water Treatment Plant (WWTP), the largest in the U.S. and the third largest in the world. As raw sewage flows into the Detroit River and downriver to southeast Michigan and Toledo, Ohio, due to increasing dysfunction there, countless more Flints can be expected.
Like the WWTP workers, City of Detroit workers everywhere have faced massive layoffs and privatization. Retirees are rapidly sinking below the poverty level, having lost huge chunks of their pensions, annuity savings and medical benefits.
Some, such as Belinda Myers-Florence, officer of the Detroit Active and Retired Employees Association (DAREA), which has now appealed the bankruptcy plan to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, have lost their lives due to the stress of this vicious attack.
Highland Park’s population of 10,000 is 93.5 percent Black, and 51 percent of its people live below the poverty level. Pontiac, 52 percent Black, has a 36.6 percent poverty rate. Flint, 56.6 percent Black, has a 41 percent poverty level.
Benton Harbor, nearly 90 percent Black, had 42.6 percent of its people living below the poverty level in 2013.
General Motors first abandoned and impoverished Flint, Pontiac and Detroit, shutting down most of its auto plants in those cities.
Ford Motor Co., whose pro-fascist founder Henry Ford created the white city of Dearborn, has done nothing to stop the ongoing racist murders of Blacks who venture into that city, including the execution-style slaying of Kevin Matthews by a white Dearborn cop Dec. 23, 2015.
Chrysler abandoned Highland Park to its fate, leaving its public school system, libraries and housing stock in shambles.
Among other Michigan-based companies, Whirlpool abandoned the nearly all-Black city of Benton Harbor, pulling its plants out, taking over public land and sanctioning racist police murders there as well. With Whirlpool’s support, the activist Rev. Edward Pinkney is now languishing in a Michigan prison, falsely charged with changing dates on an election recall petition aimed at Whirlpool-endorsed Mayor James Hightower.
What is the common denominator for these cities and many more like them, including even working-class majority white cities in Michigan? After all, over the last 10 years, the state has cut $7.2 billion in revenue-sharing to its cities.
It was the coup d’état pulled off by Snyder and his legislative and corporate allies, in the secrecy of night in December 2012. They created the second Emergency Manager Act, P.A. 436, after the residents of 84 out of 86 counties had voted down its virtually identical predecessor, P.A. 4, in a referendum vote.
Despite pleas by Michigan’s Black population, 51 percent of which was disenfranchised under the emergency manager acts, the country’s first Black president, Barack Obama, and his Black attorney general, Eric Holder, refused to open a Voting Rights Act investigation of the legislation, requested by U.S. Congressman John Conyers, D-Detroit.
Hundreds of thousands of people across the U.S. fought in the streets, in the fields, in the cities of the South and North – and many lost their lives – to establish the Voting Rights Act. The failure of a Democratic Black administration to fight the attack on it in Michigan was a historic betrayal that can never be forgiven or forgotten.
Like the youth of Ferguson, Baltimore, Chicago and elsewhere who have spent the last two years fighting in the streets for their very lives against police assassinations, the people of Flint and of Michigan must not be hoodwinked by the election hi-jinks being played out now.
Direct action by the people, including boycotts, uprisings, strikes like the current mass walkouts by Detroit Public School teachers and other militant responses can be the only appropriate response to the horrendous crime which has been committed against the people of Flint.
Detroit-based journalist Diane Bukowski, an investigative reporter who wrote for the Michigan Citizen for many years and has been an activist in union and people’s struggles for 40 years, is publisher of The Voice of Detroit, “the city’s independent newspaper, unbossed and unbought,” where this story first appeared. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.